State of the Union: US Race Official Programs

Published on March 19th, 2015

Jim Walsh, a National Judge and a member of US Sailing’s Board of Directors, provides this update on the US programs for race officials…

The US Sailing Judge and Race Officer programs were developed in 1977 to elevate the quality, consistency and fairness of race management and judging. The goal was then, and is still, to provide experienced, well-qualified volunteer judges and race officers for sailors and race organizers across the country.

Later the program changed to a seminar-based system with periodic testing and evaluation of a candidate’s judicial temperament as a condition of judge certification. This system has given us a mechanism for qualifying judges and race officers. We now have hundreds of volunteer certified judges and race officers who are passionate about our sport and who serve the sailing community. Competitors throughout the country have benefited significantly from the consistency these volunteers provide.

Is the system perfect? Of course not. The Judges and Race Management Committees face a variety of challenges. They must require enough training so that judges and race officers can develop their practice without making the requirements burdensome. They need to find ways to engage younger volunteers who will step into the system. The committees must also continue striving to make the process fair, welcoming and transparent to those who seek certification.

The Judges Committee has continued addressing these needs by developing a Continuing Education model for recertification. While judges may still take the traditional one-day or two-day seminar (not an onerous requirement every four years, we think), established judges may also meet the training requirement by participating in several roundtables, webinars or clinics. The committees are also developing a program by which senior race officials can receive credit toward recertification by mentoring rising officials at high-level events.

The Club Judge program, a rapidly expanding part of the training system, prepares judges to run hearings at their own clubs. Judges who wish to serve at higher levels must meet a higher standard of education and, yes, serve at a distance from their home waters twice in four years to gain experience in a variety of conditions and venues. These judges often volunteer at national championships and world qualifying events, where the sailors rightfully expect a high level of competence.

Online testing is now in place for Club-level judge and race officer seminars; testing will be rolled out for Advanced Judge seminars in the beginning of April and is scheduled for Advanced Race seminars later this year. Full online courses are currently in the early stages of development.

At the heart of this discussion is the fact that race officials volunteer their time in order to give back to the sport they love. As International Race Officer Tom Duggan often reminds us, the sailors are our customers, and we race officials are there to support them.

The US Sailing Board of Directors and the race official committees are always looking for better ways to serve our customers – both the volunteer race officials and the sailors. Our sport is built on an active, passionate and properly supported volunteer base. The Board is deeply grateful to those volunteers, whether they support local Wednesday night racing or world championship regattas.

For more information about finding or becoming a US Sailing certified race official:

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